When going to a wedding, oftentimes you are presented with only two dinner choices: the chicken or the fish.
How much you like or don’t like either option will determine how unhappy you will be on having to choose a meal. Research suggests human sexuality may work the same way.
Sexuality is often segregated into three categories: heterosexual, bisexual and homosexual. Sixty-seven years ago, Alfred Kinsey, a prominent biologist, entomologist and sexologist, founded the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University. His studies show that dichotomizing sexuality is not all-inclusive, and sexuality is in fact a more fluid rather than concrete concept.
The idea is that sexual orientation is less like explaining someone’s eye color and more like describing weight; in some cases, individuals don’t fit into the category of “fat” or “skinny.”
An article appearing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2013 reported people are motivated to retain their group membership socially and “may be sensitive to any threat that would exclude them from their social group and, even worse, result in being miscategorized as an outgroup member.”
Even more distressing to the research subjects were situations in which an individual’s group membership is not readily apparent and even difficult to “prove.” If, for example, you are a heterosexual male and are not perceived as being part of a heterosexual group, you may feel discomfort at being miscategorized.
Robert Epstein, an American psychologist, conducted a study of 17,785 subjects from the United States and 47 other countries. This study found that not only was Kinsey largely correct in his prediction of sexuality existing over a continuum, but continuing to force individuals to pick between two categories could also be a cause for great distress.
This self-adaptation of one label over another forces men and women to feel a disconnect between the label they adopt and their actual sexual behaviors or attractions. The greater the disconnect, the greater the overall anxiety of not fitting neatly into a category.
Most interestingly, the study proclaims that “Few people – possibly even less than 10 percent of the population – are exclusively straight or gay throughout their lives. Most people experience some degree of same-sex attraction at some point. In a society that was completely free of sexual orientation stigma, most people would probably be bisexual.”
This leads one to wonder why a sexual stigma still exists when this idea is not new.
Brittany Hemphill, a junior in the College of Liberal Arts and the president of the LGBTQ Student Alliance, said gender identification is a very personal choice and is deeply rooted in an individual’s lifestyle.
Having grown up on the south side of Indy before coming to Purdue, Hemphill expressed feelings of discomfort at having to identify as “one or the other” gender. When she was 19, she came out as a lesbian because, she said, “I didn’t have the ability or the understanding to know there were more (options).”
Now, she has settled comfortably into her pansexuality, or an attraction to people who self-identify as any gender.
“The person I was six months ago was not who I am today,” she said. “For example, as I learned more about my identity, (it) allowed me to change.”
Hemphill also cited exposure to anthropological courses at Purdue that explained how other cultures conceptualize and portray gender as helping her decision. Though she admits American ideals on gender are more rigid than many other places, she senses a change in the overall perception of the LGBTQ community to being more all-inclusive.
Her dream, she said, is to “Live in a world where we as people are not as mocked and understood (more fully).”